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|April 26, 2000
Old Economy tycoon loves his new role, New Economy
Neena Haridas in New Delhi
Arun Bharat Ram, the new president of the Confederation of Indian Industry, has been a somewhat mute spectator to his predecessor Rahul Bajaj's histrionics. Ram, chairman, SRF Limited, smiled at the right moments, shook his head in agreement when needed and was always there where and when Bajaj needed him.
A senior CII official says, "Rahul and Arun made a good pair -- they complemented each other. Arun was quiet, reticent and low-profile while Rahul was more bohemian and never minced his words."
The 59-year-old tycoon is no introvert though. One of his friends says, "When it comes to speaking out his mind, Arun is quite capable." Tarun Das, director-general of the CII and long-time friend and colleague of Ram, says, "There is a candid guy in Arun. He can ask the most uncomfortable question on a most controversial issue with the straightest face you have ever seen. You just can't ignore him."
Nnobody does. Fellow industrialists and CIIites attribute his "affable character" to his illustrious family tradition, his Doon School education and several years as CII vice-president. Of course, they attribute his increasing candour to his association with Rahul Bajaj.
Ram himself had once admitted that he has learnt a lot from Bajaj. He had said: "You have to see how expressive Rahul is, he is articulate, communicative and so knowledgeable. There is no topic under the sun that he doesn't talk about. Of course, sometimes it becomes an overkill of sorts. But there is so much to learn from him."
And sure enough, there is a lot for Ram to do as well. To begin with, he has to keep pace with the CII's overactive machinery (often attributed to Bajaj's overenthusiasm) which is working hard at striking a balance between the New Economy and the Old Economy. For, almost all of CII members, including Ram himself, belong to the Old Economy.
Where does he see the Old Economy heading? Says Ram: "The business models are evolving by the day, and it will be the survival of the fittest. Information Technology is not that the Old Economy wil be wiped out or that the New Economy will be the backbone -- instead there will be an amalgamation of the two to become one strong entity."
What role does he prescribe for the government in all this? "Well, reforms have to implemented faster. Government matters, and they have to let privatisation happen. Yes, I agree it is going to be one coalition or the other -- but they have to realise that there is only one Indian economy and too many policy changes cannot sustain that. Some politicians have the vision, but that is not enough. There is need for action."
There has been some 'action' in Ram's life too. A family split, a company takeover, a strike, financial crunch -- you name it, he's had it. In the late '80s, the Shri Rams split -- amicably, some say, bitterly, some others say.
Then came the early 90s when Ram had to take some tough decisions when Ceat took over his company, because the financial institutions did not keep their word. Then came the strike in SRF in the mid 90s which almost brought his company to a standstill.
Ram undertook a communication programme with his workforce on a personal note. Unlike the old order, Ram has adopted the "good things of the New Economy" such as employee stock options, professional managers, etc. Says he: "This is what I mean by evolution. The Old Economy has to learn from the new and adopt things that are good. Although we are a traditional family business, we are able to merge with the New Economy in terms of the new work culture."
He jogs his memory a bit and recounts: "I learnt a lot about professional management of traditional family business from the US while doing by industrial engineering from the University of Michigan. Vivek, my brother, late Ranbaxy chairman Parvinder Singh and I shared a room there and ended up learning a lot from each other -- about relationships, management, business and economy."
What does he intend to do while not chairing the CII or SRF? Play his sitar and make his guru Pandit Ravi Shankar proud.
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